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Lessons for drying India in water-surplus Israel

Sonal Khetarpal     February 26, 2020

India is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. It has four per cent of the world's water resources but 17 per cent of its population. With increasing population and bad water resource management, the availability of water per person is decreasing at an alarming rate. World Bank estimates that it has fallen by a whopping 400 per cent in the last 60 years.

In 1950, India had 3,000-4,000 cubic meters of water per person. Today, it has reduced to 1,000 cubic meters.

In contrast, the desert nation of Israel was facing severe drought for years. But, today it is a water surplus nation. What is interesting is it didn't depend on natural water resources for self sustenance, but did it on the back of technological advances such as wastewater reclamation and seawater desalination. Dan Alluf, Counsellor of Embassy of Israel shares the best practices of his desert nation at The Energy and Resources Institute's (TERI) annual event World Sustainable Development Summit 2020.

In Israel, water is owned by the state for the people. The State acts as the legal guardian of water and manages it in the best interest of the public to ensure its efficient utilisation and conservation for households, agriculture and the industry.

Alluf says it's key to leverage technology for efficient water utilisation in the country but it is also crucial to choose the right innovation so it delivers the desired solution that is actually needed. He shares some of the instances of simple technological solutions that can have dramatic impact on the efficient use of water in Israel.

One of the biggest advances in modern agriculture is drip irrigation, one of Israel's invention.

In drip or micro irrigation, instead of pouring copious amount of water on the entire field, drops of water are dripped directly on the plant's roots. One of the most efficient method of irrigation, it utilises 95 per cent of the water that is used. Flood irrigation has 30 per cent efficiency. "For drip irrigation to be a success, it is important to develop an economic design that has the right water pressure and the right system where the farmers know when and how much of water to use," says Alluf. Over the years, India has become the largest adopter of this technology.

Another is making metering of water compulsory for everyone, whether it is household, agriculture or industrial units. "Israel isn't just surviving without water, it is prospering without water. And, the reason for that are water meters. Metering of water is managing of water. Once the amount of utilisation is known, it enables better planning and management of the precious resource," he adds.

All the drinking water in Israel comes from desalination techniques where seawater is converted to fresh water using the process of reverse osmosis. The country has reduced the price of this expensive technology to one-third. For agriculture, street water and treated urban water is used. Water treatment systems in Israel recapture 80-90 per cent of the water that goes down the drain from streets and households, which is recycled and reused for agriculture irrigation. "This means that every drop of water in Israel is used twice," says Alluf.

Israel has the largest agricultural project in India across 19 states in India under the Indo-Israel Agriculture Project where they are involved in knowledge transfer of best practices in Israel of improving agricultural productivity to Indian context.

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